Peter Drucker first advised building strengths in the 1960s and it became a constant theme throughout his work. In 1990 psychology researcher and professor, Martin Seligman, published his book, Learned Optimism, and launched the positive psychology movement. In 2001, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton, their book, Now, Discover Your Strengths.
I read, reread, and cited all this research in my own books, keynotes, workshops, and retreats. It made so much sense. And it fit so well with my own beliefs and experience that accentuating the positive is key to increased happiness and greater effectiveness.
But with my focus on practical leadership, I struggled for years with how to help leaders move strength-building from inspiration to application. Buckingham and Clifton’s position was that strengths are talents or natural gifts that are fixed once we hit adulthood. Gallup’s StrengthsFinder tool was developed to provide self-assessment in uncovering our strengths so we could use more of those every day — and help others do the same. This is a fixed mindset that didn’t fit with my “growing” books and clashed with research on continuous personal growth and leadership skill development.
I used the VIA (Values in Action) Character Strengths self-assessment survey pioneered by Martin Seligman and colleagues back in 2002 and found it to be a good self-discovery tool for personal development. But I couldn’t see a practical way to help leaders apply their “signature strengths” to leadership skill development.
I’ve also come to appreciate the power of feedback for leadership assessment — especially with a 360 feedback tool. But those assessments also came with a dark side. They quickly drew leaders into a “negative psychology” approach that played directly into our deep-seated “neuro wiring” to focus on gaps or weaknesses. This often reduced confidence and motivation to stick with a development plan. Some CEOs banned 360s because of the trail of bad feelings and destruction.
So when Jack Zenger and I reconnected in 2012 I was intrigued by what I learned of the very unique, evidence-based approach he and Joe Folkman had now been using for a decade to build leadership strengths.
Watch Jack and Joe’s complimentary webinar, Focus on Strengths: What Extraordinary Leaders Do Differently to learn more about their groundbreaking research and strengths building approach. Click here to view now.
Star Wars star, Harrison Ford, could have been talking about strength building when he said, “‘May the Force be with you’ is charming, but it’s not important. What’s important is that you become the Force — for yourself and perhaps for other people.”